Thursday, March 26, 2015

I Am Not Alone

On campus at the University of Arizona, this grouping of palm trees always snares my attention.

"Hi, Diane."

The caller ID said my mom was calling, but in fact, it was her caregiver on the line.

"Can you please talk to your mom? She's crying and saying that she is scared of everything and I can't calm her down I asked if she wanted to talk to you and she said yes."

Well. This was a situation with precious few options.

Of course, I would talk to her.

And as the caregiver handed the phone over to my mom, I drew a deep breath and reminded myself to just go with the flow and trust that the right words would come.

Planted in two tightly spaced rows, the palms have grown so close together that they appear almost as one organic being. 

"Hi, Diane."

Yep, No doubt about it, the trembling voice told me that my mom was indeed crying. While her Lewy Body Dementia often causes her extreme levels of anxiety and upsetting hallucinations, she rarely cries. This was very out of character for her.

"Hi, Mom. What's going on?"

"I'm scared. I'm so scared of everything. People here are mean to me. They laugh at me. And my knee is huge and fat. Why? I'm so scared!"

* * * * *

Last week, my mom mysteriously broke her knee cap. No one can figure out exactly how the accident happened, but the five-centimeter fracture speaks for itself. After a surgical procedure on Monday, she is poised for recovery, but this extended stay in the hospital is wreaking havoc on her poor dementia-ravaged mind.

* * * * *

So I began to talk,
to show her sympathy,
to ask questions,
to jog her memory,
to figure out what was going on in her mind,
to reassure her,
and to think of how I might calm the storm and bring her peace.

And as I listened to my mom tell me about her justifiable fears, I did the only thing I could think to do. I told her to hold her caregiver's hand, and to repeat these words over and over with me:

I am not alone.
I am not alone.
I am not alone.

She calmed down almost immediately.

With their tall, ungainly, top-heavy shapes, I imagine that these trees depend on one another's support to stay tall and strong in the high desert winds.

Of course, the stormy seas of dementia continued to toss her about, and her waves of fear came rolling back every few minutes.

But I would say to her, You are not alone.
I would hear her devoted and compassionate caregiver saying, You are not alone.
And I would hear my poor mother, her voice relaxing as she let go of her imagined but very real fears, obediently repeating, I am not alone.

We talked for forty-five minutes. After her dinner, my mom called me back and we went on for another hour. She held her caregiver's hand and we all repeated those words together, again and again.

I am not alone.
I am not alone.
I am not alone.

And during our conversations, I thought to myself how true it is that all of us struggle with feeling alone, and need a reassuring hand to hold.

But those of us without dementia are usually too proud to admit how scared we truly are.

Those who stand alone must find other ways to cope.


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